>> from the library ofcongress in washington, d.c. >> robert saladini: well goodafternoon everyone and welcome. my name is robert saladini and itmy pleasure to welcome to talk today by annette gordon-reed whois discussing her latest book "the hemingses of montcicello anamerican family:" the relationship
sex education virginia, between thomas jefferson andsally hemings has been the subject of speculation for centuries. even more so in the pastdecade, perhaps as a result of today's speaker's 1997 bookthe carefully evaluated claims
and counterclaims about thejefferson-hemings relationship and when dna testingincreased evidence of a sexual liaison between them. in her latest book, annette gordon-reed chronicles thehemings family from the mid1700s when an english seacaptain fathered a child by an enslaved womanliving near williamsburg, virginia to the early 19thcentury story of sally hemings. marie morgan and edmondmorgan writing
in the most recent new york reviewof books calls this book brilliant. i should also pause here and state that annette's earlier bookwas also described as brilliant by the new yorker andthey continue to say that if marks annette gordon-reed asone of the most astute, insightful and forthright historiansof this generation. this sentiment is echoedby the winner of the 2006 john w. kluge prize forlifetime achievement in the study of humanity and a great friendof ours here at the library
of congress, dr. john hope franklinauthor of "from slavery to freedom" who said that "this is not only ariveting history of a slave family on a grand scale, it is also ararely seen portrait of the family in the big house with a remarkableaccount of the relationship of white and black families. this work catapults gordon-reedinto the very first rank of historians of slavery." if dr. franklin saysthis it's got to be true. a native of texas and thegordon-reed is a professor
of law at new york law school. in addition to her 1997 booktitled, "thomas jefferson and sally hemings anamerican controversy", she's written several other books with vernon jordan shewrote "vernon can read!" a memoir back in 2001 andin 2002 "race on trial: law and justice inamerican history." in this book she edits12 original essays that illustrate how race oftendetermined the outcome of trials
and how trials that confront issuesof racism provide a unique lens on american cultural history. we're in for a veryspecial treat today. so i hope you join me in welcomingour speaker, annette gordon-reed. [ applause ] >> annette gordon-reed:thank you very much for that very generous introduction. i'm very happy to here. this is sort of a returnvisit for me.
a few years back i was on the advisory committeecommemorating the anniversary of the library of congress,the birth of it with jefferson sellinghis books to the library after the british haddestroyed the capitol and destroyed washington during thewar of 1812, so it's always nice to be back here and seesort of familiar faces and familiar hauntsin this building. i thought i would talk alittle bit about the book.
this is the occasionfor us getting together to explain a little bit how icame to this point and what it is that i'm trying toaccomplish in the book. robert mentioned my firstbook "thomas jefferson and sally hemings an americancontroversy" that came out in 1997. i was shooting as hard as i couldfor sort of a 10 year anniversary, but you know, booksdon't always work out exactly the way you want themto when you're working on them, so i was a year late with it.
i guess i could make it theanniversary of the paperback of thomas jefferson andsally hemings and sort of satisfy myself this way, but forpeople who know anything about me and know anything about my work know that jefferson has been alongstanding interest for me. i started writing the book,well actually i started thinking about jefferson when i was achild reading a biography of him as a third grader;sort of a biography that was geared to people my age.
nothing about the hemings'sis in that story. basically, the kind ofthing that you would expect that would teach young peopleabout the great people who existed in their country, jefferson,madison, booker t. washington, george washington, carverthere was dolly madison, but jefferson's biographyinterested me the most because i identifiedwith his love of books. there were other thingsabout him obviously that were quite different than me.
i'm male, i mean he'smale, i'm female. he's white and i'm black,but this love of books, this love of learning wassomething that i keyed in on when i was reading thisbiography and i continued to be interested inhim over the years. i didn't find out aboutsally hemings and her family until i was a teenager and reada copy of my parent's book "white over black" that was written bywinthrop jordan and he has a chapter in there when that's called"thomas jefferson's self in society"
and that's the first timei read anything at all about the hemings's family. then the next experience thati had with it was writing or actually reading fawnbrodie's biography of jefferson, very controversial biography thatcame out in 1974 in which she wrote about jefferson's life and includedthe hemings's family as sort of the hemings story, the story thatjefferson had a long-term liaison with a slave woman sort of includedit as part of jefferson's biography and that caused a firestormof controversy obviously
if people remember that and shewas a somewhat embattled figure, but what really interested meabout that book was at the back of it there were tworecollections of enslaved people. madison hemings who said that hewas the son of thomas jefferson and sally hemings and a man namedisrael jefferson whose real last name was gillette. in my book he appearsas israel gillette because that was histrue family name. jefferson was sort of appendedonto his name and he is known
as israel jefferson butinstead of his real name and israel gillette talkedabout monticello and also talked about a relationship betweenthomas jefferson and sally hemings and i found it fascinating tothink about the possibility or the prospect of beingowned by your father. now, i grew up as robert mentioned,i grew up in texas and texas was, people don't think of texas asthe south but it is the south and east texas is the south, anyplace i say where they grew cotton and had slaves, ispart of the south.
so that kind of thing i knew even as a young age was not a farfetchedstory, it wasn't that i believed it or disbelieved it, but i neverencountered it or perceived it as something crazy, because i knewthat this kind of thing happened. if you go to a family reunion,a black family reunion, the people in the family therewill be all different colors of the rainbow and typicallyit's not uncommon at all for the older people to be morefair-skinned than the younger people because people back off in thoselittle towns and those places back
in those time periods mixed. so as a southerner viewing this,it never struck me as an odd story. i knew it was odd to peoplebecause of jefferson's prominence, what he meant to people, but thathas nothing to do with evidence. i mean it's sort of like thinkingthat you're birthday matters to the lottery; thenumbers in the lottery. it means something to you,but it doesn't mean anything to the way the numbers fall,so you feel about jefferson or how people felt aboutjefferson even, you know,
doesn't really determine whatactually happened in the past. so, i kept interestedin this subject, decided to go to law schoolinstead of becoming a historian because i thought orwas told at the time that there were too many historians. what they didn't tell me, that they're not manyblack historians, phds. and people have been happy forme to not go to law school and go into history, but a lack anda lass i went to law school
and you know, i'm not regretting it. it was a good choice for meand i said, well i can continue to indulge my love of history. if you love books, that'sthe great thing about books, you could always have books, youknow, you don't have to be part of any formal program or anythinglike that to love and to read books and to learn from them, so istarted, i kept reading history and as some point started to think,yes but i also like to write as well and that's kind of hard to do ifyou're an associate in a law firm.
you're supposed to writingwhat people tell you to write, not your own stuff. and i became much more frustratedwith just reading history and not doing the kind of thing that i thought i wasreally supposed to do. and one day in 1995 or actuallyone month, i began to see articles about a movie thatwas going to be made, a movie called "jefferson in paris." if people have seen it, it's nota very good movie i don't think,
we could talk about that later,but and i started seeing articles about people being outraged at thepossibility that they were going to treat this story as true. you know the story thatjefferson had this liaison and people were saying things like"jefferson wouldn't be involved with a slave girl: or"there's no evidence that jefferson was involvedwith sally hemings." well, a slave girl that kind ofticked me off because it sort of implies that everyafrican-american woman from 1619
to 1865 was the samewoman, a slave girl and you know exactly what she waslike and what she was supposed to be and this sort of dismissal of theidea that there were different types of people, there's manydifferent personalities, there's many different kinds ofsort of perspectives and experiences that i know existed in slavery, thatwas sort of shunted to the side. i was also concerned about theidea that there was no evidence. now evidence is notthe same thing a proof. but i knew that madisonhemings's recollections
and israel gillette's recollectionsand the oral history of the family. madison hemings is not properly seenas oral history because he lived at the time; oral historyusually refers to things further down the line, but those twothings to me the oral history and this primary history thatmadison hemings gives about his life at monticello, i knewthat that was evidence. people may not be convincedabout it, but to say that therewas no evidence to me was like say he never spoke.
and i found that quite offensive. if you think about someonewho lived as a slave, if you think about people, anygroup of people who are living under a system of oppression whetherthey're behind the iron curtain, on the gulag or nazigermany or anything, the idea that somebody couldcome out that system and say, "here's what happened to me"and people would treat it as if it were meaningless. struck me as not only intellectuallyunsound, but it was immoral
in a way, there was a moral aspectto this that really sort of fired me up and i sat down to write an op-edpiece that got longer and longer and longer and turnedinto my first book. and as i was writing thebook, i thought at this point, i didn't tell anybody i waswriting a book, a law professor. i'm actually a professor ofhistory now too at rutgers, but law professors are supposedto be writing law review articles, so i didn't tell anybodyi was writing a book. i wrote the book and as i did so,
i thought you know i could do whati've really always wanted to do and that is write abiography of jefferson and that is the next big thingon the table right now for me, but i also thought, you know,there are lots of records about the hemings's here. jefferson as many of thepeople in this room know, was an inveterate record keeper. not only in terms of writing things down in letters, butin the "farm book."
his memorandum books thatwere edited by james bear and "cinder" stanton, luciastanton at monticello. i think the greatest work ofjefferson's scholarship in decades. it's the most useful thingthat has come down the pike. those kinds of records saya lot about the hemings's. in this book, at one point i'mwrite about jefferson in new york with james and robert hemingsand jefferson in philadelphia with james hemings and you canpretty much track what james hemings and robert are doing every dayfrom jefferson's memorandum books;
gave this amount of money to robert to go do this and thatand the other. and from the letters andthe "memorandum book", you could piece togethera picture of a life of individual enslaved people inways that you just can't otherwise. i mean this is, we know moreabout this family than you know about not just other enslavedpeople, but white people who lived in the 18th and 19th century, so as i was writing the first book ithought, well here's an opportunity
to write about slave, enslavedpeople in a different sort of way. one of the things isay in the book is that for african-americanssocial history trumps biography. people see blacks andenslaved people and i really do think the waypeople see blacks today is very much influenced by slavery, howthey were viewed in slavery and it's sort of a group identity. you determine what is going on ina black person's life by looking at what's happening to themajority of black people.
we don't really dothat with white people, certainly biographers don't do that. you may get the context,the larger context that the person is living in, butyou sort of write from the inside out as much as you possibly can. rather than saying,okay what's happening to this group of black people? this is likely what's happeningto that one and what i wanted to do here was to use theinformation from jefferson's records
from the oral historyof the hemings's family. some of the written recordof the hemings's family, some of the members of thefamily were literate to try to piece together, to try todo for them what is often done for other whites in history and thatis to give them an individual story. i think dealing with people,dealing with abstractions is tough for people, it's tough to relateto a concept enslaved black person, enslaved black woman but ifyou write about sally hemings or elizabeth hemings or jameshemings and you see james hemings
who starts out in thebook as a young boy who is capturing mockingbirds for jefferson when jefferson is courting his wife. he mentions in his "memorandum book,i gave jamie this amount of money for capturing a mockingbird for me." then you see james go to becomea teenager who is in richmond when jefferson decides thathe's going to go to paris and jefferson doesn't reallyknow where he is so he writes to william short and say"if you can find james,
tell him to meet me in philadelphia. we're going to france." jefferson has the idea that he'sgoing to turn him into a chef which he actually does, so wesee a young boy and you see him as a teenager, you see him in franceas a young man learning a skill, becoming a professional chef. it's not an insignificantthing to have happened. i mean, how many people inamerica, how many virginians white or black went overseas andlived in a francophone country
for over five years wholearned a trade in that, a profession in that place whoworked with other french people to sort of bring that out? so you see him sort of progressthrough life to the point where he's back in america withjefferson, then becomes a free man, travels around in the unitedstates, travels back overseas and unfortunately ends, his lifeends tragically as a suicide. there's a person here, there's nota concept of enslaved black man that is sort of a distancing thing,
a thing that you can makesomeone an object of pity, but what i want thesepeople to be are sort of, are the kind of peoplethat you empathize with. empathy requires some degreeof connection to the person and pity you can sort ofput the person over there and it's not really like you. empathizing with enslaved people,i think it's just another, again, it's not the only way to do things. i never understood people whothink that it's either this
or it's either that, you're writingthe social history and only that or you're writing the biography. it's all kinds of things. if we're really going to get ahandle on this part of our history, you have to look at all differentfacets and use all different types of methodology and whati'm trying to do here is to personalize the story of slavery so that people canget at it that way. this was driven hometo me very forcefully,
a couple of summers ago i wassitting there a sunday afternoon, this is so pathetic, typing away onthis book and coming to a section about mary hemings who wassally hemings's oldest sister who when jefferson goes to paris isleased out to man named thomas bell and they began a relationship. they have two children. when jefferson comesback, she asks jefferson to sell her to thomas bell. this is, i mean this isslavery and property,
think of someone being leased, theidea of leasing a person to someone. he comes back. she asks him to sell her to thomasbell which jefferson agrees to do, but he agrees to, but he apparentlyis only amendable selling her two youngest children; the twochildren that she's had with thomas bell, nother older children. and so i'm sort ofwriting there and i said, well you know the older ones, two of her children had alreadybeen given away as wedding presents
and the next two were living withher at monticello before she moves in with bell and their namesare joseph fossett and, joseph and betsy. and i say, well you know thesetwo young children were left at monticello. they were probably looked afterby their aunts and uncles, their extended family and isaid but betsy wasn't very old. you know, she was nine and all of a sudden i'm sitting therebeing this very detached scholar
and i started to cry, not liketears rolling down your cheek sort of silent crying, imean like really crying because there are momentwhen it hits you. i have two children andi've had nine-year-olds and i know what it would be like forthem if they were separated from me, now mary hemings livednot far from monticello. she lived in charlottesville andso there was a lot of traffic between charlottesvilleand the mountain, but lots of other people were notso even that fortunate, you know,
they never saw their parentsagain when they were sold and so there are these momentslike that when you think of these people not just in termsof, you know, as lives in the past or as a i said, a genericenslaved person. you know their names andyou know their relationships and you know theirconnections to people and what they mean to one another. the book, at the beginningof the book i have, it's a very big family so, thefirst part of the family tree is
in the front of the book and thenext part of it is in the back of the book and you cansee the naming patterns. they're naming eachother after one another. how do people who don't have thelegal ability to form a family, how do they keep that together? and one of the ways they kept ittogether was by naming one another after their siblings, after theirmothers, there are many sarah's; sally hemings's name was sarah. there are many sarah's in thatgroup; mary's; elizabeth's;
martin's; james's allthe different generations and that's how people keptthings together and i felt as i was writing my first bookand as i said, looking at all of this information that i couldtry to aluminate another aspect of slavery by coming atit from a different way, not just the group identitybut the individual identity. so, i sat down and started to write. i mean i typically, i meansome people sort of jump back and forth i've heard in the types intheir writing the different periods
of time, i generally start; thefirst thing that i start writing is, and i just kind of go throughto the end, i don't really skip in chronology or anything,so i sat down and started with the preface talkingabout my looking at the, looking at the "farm book",the original "farm book" at the massachusetts historicalsociety and i go from there. the first section of thebook, it's very long book, but people have toldme it's readable, a long book dividedinto three parts.
the first part is called "origins" and that really setsup the hemings family. we start with elizabeth hemings, thematriarch of the clan who is born in 1735 to an english shipcaptain and an african woman. she is owned by a prominent familyin virginia called the eppes's, francis eppes is your owner andfrancis eppes has a daughter, a legal daughter martha who growsup to marry a man named john whales who is jefferson's, who willbecome jefferson's father-in-law. john whales marries, as isaid, marries martha eppes,
has his own daughter martha. then has two other wives, and aswas often the case in those days, buried two more wives,he had three wives. after the third time i guesshe decided he did not want to get married again and he tookelizabeth hemings as a concubine, sally hemings's mother andhad six children with her. the youngest of whom was sallyborn in 1773 the year he died. john whales, a fascinating figure. i include in the hemings familythe white men who had children
with hemings women, so i did alot of research on john whales. it gave me the excuse to go toengland and go to lancashire and actually work with a genealogistto trace his family line down. a fascinating story about him. in my first book i describe himas a lawyer trained in england because relying on tyler's quarterlyor one of those old magazines, that's what they said, youknow, right so he was a lawyer. it sounded plausible to me. he actually was a servantboy who was brought
over by a man named phillipludwell in the late 1730s who and this man helpedraise him up, you know, gave him money, helped educate him. he was evidently a very, very smartand creative man and i thought that was fascinating becauseit's sort of; the difference between being for marthajefferson, jefferson's wife, the daughter of a man who wastrained as a lawyer in england which would point to at least amiddle or an upper class background. i mean there were somefarmers sons who did become,
who did go to the law, didn'ttypically become you know barristers or the sort of the people whoargued in court, but the difference between that and being a formerservant boy, i think was, is quite a bit there and it makes alot of the things about jefferson; in jefferson's biography hehas this very famous quote, where he sort of disparagespeople who say that they can trace theirancestry back, far back in england and scotland and let anybodymake of that what they will which was basically sayingi don't make anything of it.
people typically say, well thatis really a slap at his mother because his mother was amember of the randolph family that was more prominentthan the jefferson's and maybe this is some sort oftension between him and his mother. but if you know that hisfather-in-law was a servant boy, he knows that his children areone generation from a servant. so, you know, john whales is sortof a, i looked as much as i could through the family records totry to figure out who he was but he really is pretty muchjohn whales, born in lancashire;
the day that he was bornand that's pretty much it. no tracing back hisancestry back into england. so the first part of the book startwith elizabeth hemings, john whales, introduce thomas jefferson,talk a little bit about blacks and the revolution and thehemings's experiences there, some of them were captured andtaken to yorktown with a number of other people, enslaved peoplewho decided to go on their own to join the british forces. martin hemings who has an encounterwith the british at monticello
after jefferson has left monticello when tarleton's troopscoming to capture him. and go from there to talk aboutlife at monticello and then ends, the first section ends withthe death of martha jefferson which was a, yeah, itwas a cataclysmic event for thomas jefferson and reallybegins the sort of change in the hemings family's lifebecause he decides at that point that he's going to accept thecommission to go to france which he had rejected acouple of times before
because martha was too ill and hegoes to paris, takes james hemings with him and leaves the rest, obviously the otherhemings stay behind. martin and robert sort of go off and hire themselvesout and work for wages. some of the hemings women arerented out as housekeepers, most of them stay at monticello. so this is the beginningof a change for the family. jefferson, we think of jeffersonat monticello all the time
but jefferson after hiswife's death between 1783 and until the time he comesback and retirement in 1794, he's really not there and then he'sin retirement for a couple of years and then goes back into public life. he's really not a permanentfixture at monticello until his retirement years. so this is the beginning of thatprocess and it changes the nature of life for hemings and so weend that section and i take them to france and most of thatsection is about james hemings
and sally hemings in paris. finding about their lives there, they were on what wouldtechnically be considered free soil. there was supposed tobe no slavery in france. the french didn't mind slavery solong as it was in the colonies. they just did not wantit on french soil proper and so they would have had tofile a petition but hundreds of people filed petitions inthe 18th century for freedom and every one of them wasgranted and there was a big,
there was a greaternumber too of people, of masters who just freedtheir slaves on their own because they knew what wouldhappen if they actually went to the admiralty court and askedfor their freedom, so james and sally hemings couldhave remained in france. they were, james hemings wastrained as a chef as i said before. he was drawing a decent salary andsally hemings was as well wages, wages above the normfor french servants and jefferson paideverybody once a month
which they didn't do in france. in france you got pain oncea year if you were a servant and it was you got paid at thetime you left your service, you did a year as acontractor, six month contract and then you got paid and, you know, payment in a year ishypothetical payment, right? i mean, you would get paid or notand a lot of times people weren't. he followed the american rule ofpaying them every single month. so here are two young people who areenslaved in virginia who get used
to getting wages and managingmoney and having something that was their own and gettingpaid, as i said, above the norm for people who, for french servants. they're in paris for these years. sally hemings at the; madisonhemigns recollections are, in his recollections say that therewas a conflict about coming home that sally hemings didn't wantto come home and i don't want to be sexist about this, buti find it very hard to believe that this was just her doing.
her brother is 24. he near the end of his stay, hired a tutor to teachhim proper french grammar which i don't think he would havedone, i mean, this seems to be in preparation for staying there. jefferson persuades themto come home which they do and the scene shifts then to thethird section which is called "on the mountain" and then i sortof, which is technically not right because as i said jefferson'snot there very much,
but it's about the life ofjames hemings in philadelphia with jefferson and some of histravels and so forth and then pick up sally hemings and herchildren and other members of the hemings familywho become a focus. john hemings who was themaster artist in there. if you go to monticello now youcan still see some of his work, furniture and floorshe laid and so forth; joseph fossett who was a blacksmith. and i followed them throughto the cataclysm at the end
when jefferson dies 107,000dollars in debt; 107,000 dollars in 1826 is a lot of money,millions of dollars and all of the people except for the hemings's he freesfive people in his will. he frees people his family,freed people informally as well. the rest of the hemings as thehemings; sally hemings's sisters and brothers end up as free people. we don't know how. there's no formal emancipationof these people
but the hemings-whales childrenis what i call them in the book, thenia dies in 1795, butall the rest of them end up as free people somehowappearing in the census in the 1830 census as free people. sally hemings appears ina special census in 1833 as a free mulatto woman whohas lived in charlottesville since 1826 the year jefferson diedand it was a special census done to go around and ask black peopleif they wanted to go back to africa. sally hemings who's like a quarterblack, it even made more sense
to send her back to surrey, englandto say, you know, do want to go back to africa and she says, "no, idon't want to back to africa." and i follow and sothat's her story. i go along with her line, butalso the book ends with the story of joseph fossett who was a grandsonof elizabeth hemings, as i said, who was an artist and who wasthe blacksmith at monticello who was freed in jefferson'swill but his wife and his children were not. and so he spent the next decadestrying to buy them all back.
what he did was he asked whites inthe community to buy his children with the promise that he wouldbuy them when he got the money and he did that in a number ofoccasions, but there was one man who would not sell hiseleven-year-old son back to him even though he hadthe money to purchase him. he just refused to do it andhe hung on as long as he could and finally they wentto ohio in the 1840s because virginia was getting toohard for blacks after nat turner who was a real crackdown on enslavedpeople there and blacks in general.
it has something of ahappy ending because later in the other decadespeter makes it to freedom, makes it off to cincinnati andjoins his father and mother and siblings as an adult. they become very active inthe underground railroad and peter becomes acaterer and a minister and when he dies there are bigobituaries of him in cincinnati so it's this horrible storyof a family dispersed. i mean, you know, people talkabout sally hemings and they think
about oh, you know, is this thestory of the terrible thing happened to this woman you know being rapedfor all these years by thomas, i mean, you know, howeverpeople construct this, but the real tragedy there arereally serious, serious stories that and things that happened to othermembers of the hemings family that i really think ought tobe; and the fossett story is one in particular that ought to betold and to get people to focus on in addition to talkingabout tom and sally. so that is the book in a nutshell.
i really have been heartenedby the reception so far. we'll see what happens aswe go along down the road, but my main point as always as isaid before was to try to get people to think about these people tothink about these people who think about them in a different way. we are who we are todayin large measure by what happened during thesetimes and i really do think if you can be honest andforthright about that and readable, you stand a chance of maybenot solving all the problems,
but at least having someunderstanding of how we got to be where we are today. the good things and the bad thingsby the way are contained in all of this, so that's thebook and i would be happy to answer any questions youhave about my work, this book or mr. jordan or anythingelse that you come up with. thank you very much. i think you've got a microphone. he has a microphone i think he'sgoing to dart around the room.
is that the idea? did i, did this go off? can people hear me? okay great i seem to begoing in and out, sorry. >> hello. thank you for your talk. my name is louis clavell[assumed spelling] and i work here at the library of congress. i'm really interested in thesubtitles for your works, an american family, inamerican controversy it seems
like a great opportunityto define american; as an african-american i read in apaper about maybe seven years ago that the first african-americanhad gone. well, the first africanhad traveled to outer space and this person wasa white south african and when white south africans come to america they areafrican-americans. so when we really think about theamerican experience, this experience with the hemings and what hashappened through our experience
as captive africans in a peculiarand extreme form of capitalism that we easily call slaverysomehow we need to define it in a more particular way so thatwe can see that these connections with native americans,with europeans and africans has really createdan african family, i mean, or an american family or anamerican grouping of people that by historical experiencedefines us in a unique way and through this unique historical and migratory experience weare actually a little more
than black americansor african-americans but almost the definition ofamerican and i just wanted to have your thoughts on that. >> annette gordon-reed:well it's just sort of interesting you would say that. james baldwin had aninteresting quote. he said that if black americans, "if blacks aren't americansthere are no americans" and that's sorely what yousort of are driving at there.
the beginning of thebook i didn't talk as much about elizabeth hemings. starts with virginia inthe 1730s and one of the, if you to colonial williamsburgand you walk around, i mean, it's very hard to recreate whatit was actually like because for obvious reasons black peoplehave no interest in dressing up as slaves and walkingaround williamsburg to try to give people the authenticexperience, you know, i mean there's only so farpeople are willing to go,
but williamsburg the area where elizabeth hemingswas born was a place of english people andafrican people. i mean with the smattering of otherethnic, european ethnic groups in there but we're talkingalmost half and half and the 1730s moreafricans were brought into virginia during the 1730s than in any other partin american history. so and more africans came to americabefore the 1800s than whites,
brought over obviously as enslavedpeople, so this notion of american and whiteness, whiteness is thesort of elemental definition of american can't really hold justby the numbers they don't hold. the native americans idon't really get as much into the native american situationin the first part of the book as i do black and white becausei'm focusing in on this family, but that's really anessential thing to understand and it's very hard to conceptualize. i mean if you go to williamsburgand you see that film that they have
"running in a loop" i think itwas made in the 50s or something like that and it's a white place, but williamsburg wasnot just a white place. it was a white place and ablack place and red place, and fortunately notmuch of a red place because they were sortof gone by then. i mean more to, you know, theywere more in the western part; a number of them died off andrun off their land, but this is, we think of america asa global society now
but slavery made the worldglobal at that time period so there is this interestingmixture, this way of defining america thatis it has to be broadened much more so than, you know, just the firstenglish settlers in the country and you don't say thatthese people don't count because they were enslaved people, because they influencedthe language, the culture. i mean europeans always say whiteamericans walk like black people. carl jung said, "whiteamericans walk like negros."
that was his, i mean, from aeuropean perspective we have been, we've become somethingand certainly africans, people form the africancontinent don't look at african-americansas being first place. there's africa is so diverse, so how could you possibly representall the diversity of that country. europeans and africans know that weare something different than they and we have made something differenthere through a lot of, you know, tragedy and struggle and turmoil.
but you're right, it'sa, there's a uniqueness about the american experiencethat isn't encapsulated in just one ethnic group. >> hi. my name is coreenmahurt [assumed spelling]. i work at the unitedstates [inaudible]. i have a two part question. i would like to knowif any of the people on sally hemings'sfather side, the whales, am i pronouncing thelast name correctly?
if they acknowledge your oraccept any of the hemings and want to be a part of her heritage inconnection with the president? and secondly, the property ofmonticello, do they invite you to spread this informationabout the hemings in detail, are they more willingin accepting nowadays? thank you. >> annette gordon-reed: well i'llgo chronologically as you asked it. i don't know about the whales. it will be interesting because, youknow, lancashire is pretty far away
and i think, i don't know thatthey know anything about them. i'm actually going to be doing,i'm going to be oxford in february and i'm going to bedoing some events. norton there will besetting up events, probably some events in lancashire. it will be interesting to seeif anybody comes out, right. because it will be, you know, heywe didn't know anything about this, but it's fascinating because johnwhales is clearly reproducing the names of his family fromlancashire in his family here.
so it will interestingto see what turns up. i go to monticello all the time. i'm on the advisory groupof the international center of jefferson studies and also theafrican-american advisory group there, so i have these twoorganizations that require me to be there for their meetingsperiodically during the year and i go there for research. we have technically, now youguys are a launch as well, but technically the book launch issupposed to be friday at monticello
so i will be speaking thereand monticello, i mean, the thomas jefferson foundation isseparate from the family association which you may have read somethingabout in terms of the controversy about whether or not the hemings'scould be buried in the cemetery which no hemings asfar as i know wants to. this is a controversybetween the family, the legal, jefferson's legal white family. so the foundation is very,very separate from it and they're doing an amazingjob not just in terms of talking
about the hemings story,but talking about slavery because it's a plantation. it's easy to forgetthat when you go there. it's so beautiful, right. it's like a, i coulddo this, you know. no. you know easily. it's a gorgeous place but a place that he never saw itlook like, right. they keep that place, you know,right up to snuff with everything,
but they are very committed tothe idea of talking about slavery. not, you know, not tom and sallybut slavery, the this is a, this was a working plantation andhere are the people who worked there and here's the familythat owned people, so they're melding the story thereso there hasn't been any problem at all with me being thereand talking about this and arguing about this or whatever. you can come down, wellhe's going this way. >> i'm curious, you mentioned thatthe movie "jefferson in paris"
and my recollectionis the implication is that the spark occurred in paris with a fourteen-year-oldis that right? something like that? >> annette gordon-reed: sixteen. >> sixteen. so you mentioned you did a lot ofreading of these meticulous records and also the distinctionbetween evidence and proof. >> annette gordon-reed: ah hum.
>> did you find evidenceif not proof or did you develop any theories about when this relationship mighthave started timewise and where? >> annette gordon-reed: actually itis my belief madison hemings said the part that i left outin the chronology here, is that his mother was pregnantwhen she came back from paris and that was one of thethings that concerned her is that she didn't want to have a childwho would be an enslaved person and he says that jefferson promisedher that her children would be free.
i talk about this in a book, inthe book, in a chapter called "equilibrium" and italk about indications that sally hemings had ababy in 1790 from letters between martha jeffersonand betsy eppes, hemings's, would have been hemings'shalf-sister. so it's really form working fromwhat happened in 1790 the letters in which he writes when marthasays, you know "i need a new maid and what happened to sally?" and jefferson says, "well,i will give you a maid
and he gives her mary hemings'sdaughter molly at this point. so then you think wellwhat happened to, sally was your maid two monthsago what the heck happened now? they don't really talk about it. that letter is no longerextant by the way. there's, jefferson makesreference to it in his letter, the actual letter that martha writesto him is, as with of his letters, i mean you know, it's amazing thatwe have as many of them as we do. so there's a whole chapterthough i go through and talk
about the correspondencebetween them that indicates that something happenedthat she sort of disappears from this family after 1790. you write about, peoplewrite about her sisters, they write about her brothers,but here was a person who was at the heart of this familythat just sort disappears of the radar screen after 1790. so there is a chapter and i layoutall of this information about 1790 and what happens with sallyhemings when she comes back.
you know, i did a talk for the, formy children's school, middle school and they were, well they weresixth graders and i was thinking, you know, how am igoing to talk about this to sixth graders, right you know? so i get there and i sitdown and they're like, i don't know how anybodycalls this an affair. an affair is when you're marriedto somebody and you're having sex with somebody, i mean theystarted saying all this stuff and i was like, i was trying to becircumspect and they were, you know,
just sort of runningalong with this. and i said, well okay and they saidwell what's the problem with this? i said, well you know, she wasan african-american person. she's black and he's white andthey didn't really get that. and i said, well youknow, he's a slave master. he has power over thisperson, you know, how can you know, that'san issue here. how do you have consentif this person has power? and they said, wellbut if you own somebody
if you can make them work why, imean so that really didn't get them and then they asked me thesaid well how old was she? and i said she about sixteenand then they went oh. because they could, you couldsee them totaling up the years. well i'm in middle school thatwould mean that blah, blah, blah, blah and that was the onethat gave them real pause. and i talk in the book about,i mean, sixteen is young but there is a whole section in thebook and i talk about james madison who fall in love with a girlwhose named kathryn floyd
when she's fifteen and he wants tomarry here and jefferson is sort of like the matchmaker, youknow, madison is thirty-three, this girl is fifteen years old. he met her when she was twelve. the lived in the same rooming houseand i say, you know, out of respect for madison we could never knowwhen he first became interested in her and, you know, just know that by the time she'sfifteen he wants to marry her. i mean, there's the ageof consent in virginia
in the 18th century was ten. it was raised to twelve in 1824 andthey were being progressive, right? there is a differentunderstanding about age. you know, women postpone marriagenow because they go to college, they do all these kinds of thingsbut if you, women, what did women do in those days according to men? what were they supposedto do but have babies? get married and have babies. and you don't wait to do that.
so, no but that's a real issue forpeople, the age here the question of jefferson being involved withsomebody who's sixteen but i sort of go through the list of people inhis life who were married to his, one of his childhoodfriends thomas mann randolph at fifty marries a girlnamed gabriella harvey when she's seventeen and, you know,it's this is a different world. so i do, i discuss that issue and italk about 1790 when they come back and all of the kinds of indications that sally hemings's lifechanges pretty drastically
that year from what it has been. where did the mic go? oh there you are, you'restealthy i didn't even see you. sure go ahead. >> thank you. i wonder as you've progressed inyour research if you'd comment on the traditional jeffersonscholarship and the ways in which the issues thathave, that you've attended to have not come forth in the pastand i guess i particularly ask
about any reflections you haveon the work of dumas malone? >> annette gordon-reed: well, thiswas a difficult issue, you know. dumas malone's work, i meanif you're going to write about jefferson you have to goto him because it's all there. not, well not everything is there, but i don't even meanit in terms of this. i mean, there's just, the thingabout jefferson people who work; there are people here whowork with the papers i'm sure. there is so much material.
he had so many varied interests. he had his hand in allthese different things. you could write a twenty-threevolume biography of jefferson that's why everybodysays, you know, jefferson and slavery; jefferson andagriculture; jefferson and, i mean, you could do that with all, imean, malone said he was six or seven men rolled up into oneand you could have all these kinds of biographies, so there arelots of things that are missing from malone not because he didn't,not because he's not a good effort
and it's not a good book, it'sjust that the man and his interests and talents was so immense and so many differentways to write about him. so i use malone quite a bit. in my first book i use him, inthis book when you're not arguing with people, just becauseyou disagree; i mean, because you disagree withsomeone i would never say that someone's work isworthless because you disagree with them about something.
there are some points that are very,very good and there's some points where i think they are not so good. you have to think that malonecame up at a particular time. we tend to think that becausemalone chronologically was closer to jefferson that thatmeant that that generation of people understoodthat time better. i don't think that's right. i think the civil war and reconstruction galvanized thewhite south in a particular way.
it made them, they werenot like they were before. i mean the thomas bellstory that i'm telling you about with mary hemings, thisman is living on main street with an african-american womanand having children with her. he's made a justice of thepeace, they have a committee to decide whether or not theyshould bring public education to charlottesville, he's on that. he's a respected figure. i don't believe that a white mancould live with a black woman
on main street in charlottesvillein the early, in the 20th century, in the 1920s and holdthose positions. i mean, the civil war changed peoplebecause they were out of control. you know, in jefferson's time itwas no question who was in control of society and when you werein control you could afford to be magnanimous, right? you could afford, youget this vigilantly stuff when people are insecurenot when people are secure. so malone grew up in georgia.
i had, when i was working on thebook with mr. jordan i went down, i interviewed lots of people whoknew him and i went down to talk to griffin bell who was an attorneygeneral under jimmy carter i believe and he had said, "oh i can't wait. you know, i've read your book. i've written this articleabout jefferson and hemings would you look at it?" and so, i looked atit and it was great, but what he said he said you know,"i grew up not far from malone
and i don't understandwhy he thought this was such a weird thing." he said, "because weall knew that this kind of stuff happened backin that time period." so i think that it was just a, we imean, we think as i said it's wrong to think that because he'snearer to jefferson's time that he would be bettersuited to do this. i think that generation of peoplewere probably the exactly wrong group of people because he grew upat a time; this was against the law.
it was against the law for whitepeople and black people to marry in virginia until 1967 andthey just had the anniversary of "loving v. virginia"last year obviously. so, i think that he was obviouslyhe was a good scholar but i think that this was an issue thatwas very, very hard for him and his generation tohandle and it meant, well attaching too muchsignificance to it, because to me, the thing that i've always wondered and no one has really given mea satisfactory answer to this,
is when i see stories aboutlike the fossett's what happened to the fossett's? there is jefferson in1813 negotiating the sale of a three-year-old girl. he doesn't go through with it,but that could have been sort of in his, a three-year-old, right? i mean, the things that we acceptas normal in slavery and the things that we; my mother used tohave this expression, you know, gagging at a gnat andswallowing flies, you know you,
this is something that botherspeople but all these other things that are just really endemic tothat system that were really, really horrible in comparisonthat we just kind of accept it. the other thing for malone i willsay, is that scholars are helped by the works of others andthere has been a revolution in slavery historiographyin the past forty years. it is the crown jewelof american history, really i mean the names edmundmorgan, winthrop jordan, john hope franklin, c. vannwoodward all these names,
david brion davis we have learnedso much more about the institution of slavery than malonewould have learned in his years as a graduate student. so, phil morgan the wonderfulbook "slave counterpoint" about the development of slaveryand the chesapeake, you know, i really mind that bookjust great sources. so you're enriched by the work ofother people and as we go along and people do more scholarshipthose kinds of things are available. the civil rights movementcertainly changed attitudes
about the way you writeabout black people. black people are humanbeings in scholarship now and they really weren't fullhuman beings in the past. they were just sort of likethe flora and fauna here and i think there wassome embarrassment about jefferson's ownershipof slaves. i mean, malone was what wouldcall in his own way sort of like a southern liberal, right? and i think that there wasdiscomfort with writing
about jefferson in thispart of jefferson's life that was less admirable than all theother things, but we understand now, i hope we understand now,that you can you know, that you can celebratejefferson's accomplishments, undoubted accomplishments. they had this television programthat was, we were supposed to pick the greatest american, youknow, and it was one of those things that i shouldn't havesaid yes that i would do, but unfortunately jeffersondidn't make the cut.
i think elvis and someother people were in there. i think reagan won out, but iwas on the team to go and argue for jefferson as the greatestamerican and if i could do that understanding the flawsbut understanding the importance in the other ways; i didn'tget a chance to make my pitch, but i think we are at a time, we aremore tolerant of this time period of people who have flaws andunderstanding that flaws don't mean that the person is worthless. like i said before aboutscholarship, just because i disagree
with someone's scholarshipdoesn't mean that i say okay now down read malone, or don'tread merrill peterson or don't read those people. there's valuable, "thejefferson image in the american mind"is a great book. i just didn't like what he said about the way he treatedthe madison hemings story. but it's somethingthat's useful otherwise, so that's my view on scholarship.
people do the best thatthey can with what they have and history is the best of availableinformation you have at the moment and that is, you keep that in mindand things keep getting rewritten and i understand that definitely,so that's how i feel about it. >> did you ever find outwhat happened to martin? >> annette gordon-hemings: hemings. no, you know, that is somethingthat is puzzling to me. martin hemings was sally hemings's,well elizabeth hemings's oldest son and he was the butler atmonticello for a number of years.
he's the one i said who faceddown the british when they were at monticello and he quarrelswith jefferson and demands that jefferson sellhim and jefferson says, okay i'll sell himto whomever he wants. let him find somebody. i'll take whateverprice, just you know. and then he just sort ofdisappears of the rolls and i don't know whether it's thathe died or jefferson just let him go because he did that with a young manjamie hemings who was beaten once
and he ran away to richmondand jefferson writes to the guy who found him and says, havejames come back and james says, i'm not coming back unless youagree to me, agree that i don't have to be put under this guyagain, the guy who beat him. so jefferson says, okay. just come back. and so james says, okay i will comeback but i want to go visit my uncle who also lived in richmond andhe goes and they never, you know, the next time they see him he's ona boat going up the james river.
and jefferson basicallytakes him of the roll. he comes back to monticelloso i'm wondering if that, something like that mightnot have happened to martin. if he died, you'd think that therewould be some reference to that? i think he may havejust been let go. [ inaudible question ] burls [assumed spelling]. >> and with james's cousinyou talk about be tragic. do you know the tragicstory about her
and how she never inherited property from her aunt kretta[assumed spelling]? >> annette gordon-reed:aunt kretta yeah. >> is that, that'san interesting story. did you talk about that in the book? >> annette gordon-reed: oh, whati neglected to say or i said in passing, is that this bookends on 1831 and i'm going to pick up with the second volumebecause this got to be too long and norton said we cannothave a thousand page book
and i didn't want athousand page book. so i'm going to pick them up in1831 and go forward from there. >> and you emailed me some years agowhen you started writing this book. my name is calvin jefferson, i'mone of the decedents of betty graham and i had some information thati really wanted to share with you after this session onthe colbert family. >> annette gordon-reed: okay,i would be, well definitely be in touch with me because i'm going, as i said i've already startedright now but i really want
to follow this thingthrough and then get to, well i'm actually workingon the jefferson biography at the same time, butdefinitely contact me. the only thing, i mean he ends upthe story as the family tradition is that he promised sally hemingsthat her children would be free. if you think about it, it'sreally interesting to think about the difference forslavery for women and for men. i mean even during that time womenhad expect, women were expected to care for family and so forth andi would think it would be very hard
to think of for a woman tothink of leaving your mother and your siblings andyour sisters behind. i mean, the story is thathe promised that, you know, she would have a good life andher children would be free. he later on agrees with james, he gets james to teach hisbrother peter to be a chef and then he frees james and so. well james thought. i know. well if for james thecomplicating thing about james is
that jefferson was supposedto come back to france. jefferson came homeon a leave of absence and so there was every expectationthat james was going to come back to france again with jefferson. for sally hemings, it's much morestark because jefferson wanted to get is daughters out of france. i mean he really thought, you know, their growing up notbeing an american, so for sally hemings coming backhome was a much more drastic thing
than for james who couldhave expected to come back. jefferson is asked to be secretaryof state and so then they had to come to some sort of reckoningat that point, but for her, i think it would be youknow they're family. i mean, she could have made, people ask could she have madea life for herself in france? people did. i mean, the enslaved people who tooktheir freedom, they became majors of hotel, actually frenchpeople preferred african,
well slaves of african descent. she would have been, she and herbrother would have been much sought after as employees, but youknow, to think of staying away from your family may have been toomuch for her or maybe she thought, you know, the truth is i sort ofthink of if not thomas jefferson who would sally hemingshave ended up with? looking at her sister'slife and her mother's life, the odds were always great that shewould have ended up with a white guy and as white men went he mighthave been as good as any other.
and so, i mean that no seriously. i mean if you think aboutthe choices women had at that time period. i mean women at that momentthey depended upon men for their livelihood andif he made a good case and if you're sixteen years oldand if it's a charming person and he's rich and other peoplelike him, it might be easy to convince a sixteen yearold to do something like that. i mean we sit here andthink, heck i'm not,
i mean you know i wouldstay where i was. i think what, people ask mewell what should have happened? i think the best thing thatcould have happened if, you know, the best thing none of thesepeople would have known each other because we wouldn't have hadslavery, but as a better matter, i would have said ifjefferson had said, look this is a bettersociety for you. you two stay here and work withmr. short who was his secretary who remained in france,work with mr. short.
if you want to cometo see your family, i will let you cometo see your family. in my sort of fantasy world,that's what i wish had happened, but it didn't, so the thoughtof, this was always a problem for enslaved people;do you run away? do you stay and face whatever you'regoing to face with your family? and some people ran away andsome people thought about it and just couldn't do it, sothere are lots of things. i mean i talk about this.
i have a whole chapter where idiscuss this to try to figure out what is going on here with thisperson, with these people who decide that they will take theirchances instead of, you know, staying someplace where they couldhave made a life for themselves. >> do they have an oralhistory about what happened? >> annette gordon-reed: their oralhistory is that jefferson loved her and told her that and that'swhy she, she believed that and that's why she; that'stheir oral family history. they do have reunions.
i went to, i don'tget as much involved with the contemporary people. i pretty much live in the18th and the 19th century. they're interesting and fine peoplebut that's not really my focus, but that's the oral historyof what this was about. this was, i mean, you know thatthat's what he conveyed to her and that's what she believed, so. get this one behind right there. >> virginia history.
my sense of it is that just likewe have a contemporary example of essie mae washington and stromthurmond that the family is sort of really did know thatthere was a relationship and there was the paternity issuethere because to me the fact that the story endured,the oral history endured and the hemings themselves,i've met some of the decedents. visually you know that theyare a definitely mixed race, had they been of a darker hueat the time and sally had been, if the children had been
of a different hue one wouldquestion whether jefferson could have been the, you know, the fatherof the kids and they look very much like him and from someaccounts that i've read.